CSIR-NISCAIR Workshop For “Training Journalists in S&T Reporting”

It has been a cause for concern for quite some time that the proportion of S&T news and analysis in the Indian media is abysmal. There are also concerns relating to the quality and effectiveness of the S&T coverage. The CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (CSIR-NISCAIR), therefore, organized a Workshop for “Training Journalists in S&T Reporting” during 1-3 September 2015.

The Workshop, which was attended by 18 journalists, sought to facilitate their interaction with some of the most eminent scientists and scientist administrators of the country, expose them to prominent scientific projects and impart to them reporting skills which would be helpful in effective communication of scientific developments in the country. The Workshop was supported by the National Council of Science & Technology Communication (NCSTC), Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.

At the Inaugural Function of the Workshop, Ms Deeksha Bist, Acting Director, CSIR-NISCAIR briefly enumerated some of the major activities of CSIR-NISCAIR that has been engaged in science communication for the past almost 63 years. Today, NISCAIR is the largest institute in the country engaged in science communication and dissemination of scientific information. It has carved out a niche for itself by becoming the only Institute in the country that publishes 17 peer-reviewed research journals and three popular science magazines – Vigyan Pragati in Hindi, Science Reporter in English, and Science-ki-Duniya in Urdu.
In his Keynote Address, Dr. B.P. Singh, Head, National Council of Science & Technology Communication (NSCTC), Department of Science & Technology, Government of India emphasized that we should be proud of belonging to a country that has a profound democratic system. But the question is whether the media is playing its role of buttressing the democratic traditions of the country. He said that the press had a responsibility towards the people of the country. We need to have a well-educated, fully informed citizenry in the country, he said.

The Workshop exposed the journalists to some of the major scientific projects in the country. While Dr. B.P. Singh, Head, NCSTC enumerated the role of the Department of Science & Technology in executing national science projects and introducing schemes to enhance scientific human resource capability in the country, Dr. Viswajanani Sattigeri, Senior Principal Scientist, Planning & Performance Division, CSIR recounted several achievements and successes of the CSIR laboratories in keeping with the demands of time.

In his lecture, NPL – Timekeeper of the Nation, Dr. Amitabh Sen Gupta, Former Acting Director, CSIR-National Physical Laboratory informed the journalists that CSIR-NPL is responsible for the highest level of time and frequency measurements in India and maintains the Indian Standard Time (IST). In his very interesting presentation Dr. Sen Gupta talked about the highly intricate and sophisticated mechanism by which the time-keeping responsibility is discharged by NPL.

Mr Pallava Bagla, Science Editor, NDTV in his lecture Fun & Joy of Reporting on Mangalyaan, recounted his experiences with reporting on the Mangalyaan where he could get extremely close to the spacecraft and actually touched it. He said that journalists need to develop a certain amount of trust with project leaders and mission commanders to be able to get information that would help the journalist turn out a meaningful report. Mr Pallava also asked the journalists to ask questions – sometimes the most simple of questions unravel the most compelling of information.

In a presentation on Indian Initiatives in Nano Science & Technology, Dr. Praveer Asthana, Head, Nano Mission, Department of Science & Technology informed that India began its foray into the world of nanotechnology in October 2001, and today after 14 years stands third after China and the US in terms of research publications being published in the field – nearly 2,000 researchers had so far published around 5,000 research papers from India. The Centre has invested Rs 3,000 crore in 15 years on nanotechnology, which is nearly one-fifth of the funds spent by the US and China. However, nanotechnology products may be potential Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) hazards precisely because of the same reasons that make them useful. Hence, regulatory safeguards needed to be formulated but these will emerge as science progresses in this field.

Mr Ashok Malik, Former Assistant Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh in his presentation on Science Reporting gave several tips to the participants on how to keep abreast of S&T developments. He emphasized the need for developing contacts and networking with scientific institutes for breakthrough developments and with scientists for clarification of scientific concepts, inventions and ideas. He listed out several social media avenues such as Twitter, FaceBook and Blogs through which journalists could stay in touch with scientific developments and also follow scientists.
Two interactions were also arranged with Dr. K. VijayRaghavan, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, and Dr. Rajesh Gokhale, Director, CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.

Dr. K. VijayRaghavan said that science reporting in the media is mainly restricted to new developments and that too is much hyped, almost bordering on science gossip, reflecting the poor communication between scientists and journalists. He called upon the journalists to work hard to understand the science better. He said there is enough exciting work in science going on in the country. Journalists need to work out a way of making science a community venture. He wondered whether a mechanism could be set up to encourage regular and fruitful interactions between the media and scientists, something on the lines of a Science Media Centre. This could help create a global marketplace for Indian science, he said.

Dr. Rajesh Gokhale informed that CSIR-IGIB is engaged in research of national importance in the areas of genomics, molecular medicine, bioinformatics, proteomics and environmental biotechnology. In Genomics and Molecular Medicine, the Institute is focusing on neuropsychiatric disorders like Schizophrenia, Cardiovascular diseases, Diabetes and other complex disorders. The Institute also focuses on respiratory diseases Tuberculosis, Asthma and Allergy, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).
Since the objective of the Workshop was also to expose journalist participants to some of the most premier scientific institutes in the country, two visits were organized – one to the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and the other to the National Institute of Immunology (NII).

The valedictory function of the Workshop was held on 3 September 2015 at the CSIR Science Centre, Lodhi Road. In his welcome address, Dr. Girish Sahni, Director General, CSIR said that journalists play a very important role in communicating, among other things, the cultural and scientific heritage of the country. He called upon the journalists to play a greater role in communicating the scientific and technological developments taking place in the country.

The DG-CSIR also invited the journalists to spend a day in the national laboratories to help them know about the important research and development activities and also suggested that the journalists should interface with younger scientists. The Director General said that CSIR would look into the possibility of developing an institutionalized mechanism for facilitating journalists to visit the labs.
Addressing the workshop participants, Mr. Rajendra Prabhu, Chairman, NUJ (I) School of Journalism and Communication said that many science journalists do not adequately cover major scientific events and developments in the country. He stated that there was a need to strengthen S&T reporting and was hopeful that this workshop on S&T reporting would be the beginning for many such workshops that would bring about meaningful interactions between scientists and journalists.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Honourable Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, who was the Chief Guest of the function, welcomed the gathering and said that having a group of young journalists as participants of this training programme is a very healthy sign.

The Hon’ble Minister said that the science environment in the country is upbeat and is moving forward with positivity. He said that his visits to several CSIR labs were a revelation and that he learnt about the importance and worth of the national laboratories and realized that the general public and more importantly the students were unaware of the many accomplishments of the institutions under the Ministry of Science and Technology and Earth Sciences.
The Minister said that journalists need to be passionate about understanding the scientific activities being carried out in the country and that they have to find out what is happening in Indian science. He exhorted the journalists to visit the national laboratories and interact with the scientific community.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan suggested that a series of such workshops for journalists in S&T reporting should be held in different parts of the country. He also mulled over the possibility of instituting National Fellowships in Science Journalism to honour science journalists who have carried out exemplary reporting of Indian science news and events.

In closing, Mrs. Deeksha Bist, Acting Director, CSIR-NISCAIR proposed the vote of thanks. She said that the objective of organizing this workshop was to bring about a close interaction between our journalist participants and the scientific community, to expose them to some scientific projects and developments taking place in the country and to help our journalist participants develop a wide understanding of science and technology issues in the country.

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Seminar on “Indian LIS Journals: Problems and Prospects”

To commemorate 100 years of Indian library and information science journals and 60 years of Annals of Library and Information Studies published by CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (CSIR-NISCAIR), a seminar on ‘Indian Library and Information Science Journals: Problem & Prospects” was organised by CSIR-NISCAIR on 23 April 2014 in collaboration with SAARC Documentation Centre and Society for Information Science.

Annals of Library and Information Studies which completed 60 years of publication in 2013 is the oldest surviving English language primary library and information science journal published from India. The journal was launched in 1954 by the erstwhile Indian National Scientific Documentation Centre (INSDOC) as Annals of Library Science with the Father of Indian Library Science, Dr. S R Ranganathan as its Founder-Editor. In ten years that he was Editor, he wrote as many as 87 research articles for the journal. In 1964, the journal was renamed as Annals of Library Science and Documentation and in 2001, it was given its current name, Annals of Library and Information Studies.

Inaugural session

Speaking at the inaugural session of the seminar, Ms. Deeksha Bist, Acting Director, CSIR-NISCAIR mentioned that despite the 100 years history of Indian LIS journals, it needs to be introspected as to why no Indian LIS journal is covered in the Journal Citation Reports of Web of Knowledge and consequently do not have an impact factor. She said that the journal editors should focus on enhancing the quality and visibility of the LIS journals.

Noted library and information science author and editor, Prof. B K Sen, the Chief Guest of the inaugural function launched the Annals of Library and Information Studies archives in the open access domain. With the launch, all the issues of the journal going back to 1954, Volume 1, Issue 1 are now available online.

In his inaugural address, Prof. B K Sen gave a brief history of Indian LIS journals giving decade-wise statistical details about the journals. He mentioned that several library and information science journals had ceased to exist and most of the Indian LIS journals presently being published fall behind there publishing schedules. Prof. Sen expressed concerns on the mushrooming of open access LIS journals in the recent years as many of the journals lacked even the basic quality standards.

The seminar was attended by 57 delegates who included editors, authors and researchers.

Editors Speak

The Editors Speak session was chaired by Prof. C P Vashisth, Editor, Library Herald. Dr. Ashok Kumar, Associate Editor-in-Chief, DESIDOC Journal of Library and Information Technology, Prof. S M Shafi, Editor, Trends in Information Management, Dr. P K Bhattacharya, Editor, World Digital Libraries, Dr. Sujit Bhattacharya, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Scientometric Research, Prof. Pijushkanti Panigrahi, Associate Editor, IASLIC Bulletin, Dr. M Madhusudhan, Journal of Library and Information Science and Dr. G. Mahesh, Editor, Annals of Library and Information Studies spoke during the session. Each Editor gave a brief account about the journal that they edited and highlighted the issues faced by them. The Editors were concerned about the lack of quality in the articles being submitted to the journals. The prevailing peer review process including the paid vs. free peer review process, coverage of journals in abstracting and indexing databases and the impact factor were discussed.

Authors speak

The Authors Speak session was chaired by Dr. K C Garg, Former Chief Scientist, CSIR-NISTADS. In his opening remarks, the Chairman said that the LIS research process has come a long way in the last many decades. Specifically highlighting scientometric research, he said that many of the current papers merely tabulated readily available data from citation databases without proper interpretation of the data.  Other authors who spoke at the session were Prof. Jaideep Sharma, Professor, DLIS, IGNOU and Dr. S M Pujar, Deputy Librarian, IGIDR, Mumbai, Dr. V K J Jeevan, Deputy Librarian, IGNOU and Dr. Rabisankar Giri, IG Delhi Technological University for Women.

The authors narrated their experiences of submitting and getting articles published in Indian and foreign journals. The emergence and growth of open access journals based on a case study of DOAJ indexed journals was discussed. Authors felt that large majority of the Indian LIS journals were broad-based and that it is about time to have quality journals in focussed areas.

Panel discussion

The seminar ended with a panel discussion on “The rise of Indian LIS journals: Quantity vs Quality”. Prof. B K Sen chaired the panel discussion and the panellists were Prof. Jagtar Singh, Professor and Head, Punjabi University, Patiala, Prof. Dinesh K Gupta, Professor, VM Open University, Kota and Dr. Sanjaya Mishra, Director, Commonwealth Education Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA). The panel was concerned about the quality of the Indian LIS journals and agreed that one of the major problems was a basic one which has to do with the LIS research in India in general. The panel felt that there was a need to focus on teaching how to conceptualise research problems and how to write research papers. The roles of the editorial boards in furthering the quality of journals were also discussed based on the comparison of editorial boards of Indian and foreign LIS journals. Panellists felt that open review of manuscripts and more coordination among editors should enable enhancing the quality of journals. The engaging discussions had several delegates probing the panellists on many issues.

The seminar concluded with a vote of thanks. It was decided to bring out the September 2014 issues of Annals of Library Information Studies as a special issue on the seminar theme.

Recommendations of the seminar

  1. Indian LIS journal editors should work towards improving the quality and visibility of the journals.
  2. Journal editors may look at including non-English language or Indian language papers in the journals.
  3. Editorial Boards of journals should play a meaningful and active role.
  4. Journal editors should strive to bring out the journals on schedule.
  5. The journal editors  may explore the possibility of open peer review system.
  6. To have coordination among the journal editors, an Indian LIS Journals Editors Guild may be formed.
  7. There should be  incentives to reviewers (payments or as API points) so that the review process is expedited in a faster manner.
  8. There should be author workshops to encourage and motivate young authors.
  9. Scholarly writing skills should be inculcated to students as part of the MLIS programme.
  10. There is a need for specialized journals in LIS.
  11. There should be FAQ pages on journal websites that answers general author queries.
  12. Journals should indicate timelines in papers and strive to maintain publishing papers based on date of receipt of articles.

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On the Path of Reason

Lack of knowledge and awareness give rise to unscientific notions. With time these notions get firmly entrenched in the psyche and are passed on from generation to generation, unquestioningly. And, often, it is this blind faith that gives rise to irrational beliefs and behaviour.

For instance, in Jharkhand, children are gored with red-hot iron rods to cure them of illness. In Karnataka, newborns are thrown from atop a temple to bring good luck and mentally challenged children are buried neck-deep for six hours during a solar eclipse. In Chhattisgarh, suspected tribal women are branded “witches” and tortured to death. In others parts of the country, those suspected of being possessed by spirits are beaten brutally and children are often sacrificed to bring luck. These are not instances from long back. Such incidents are being reported almost on a daily basis from different parts of the country. One shudders to think of innumerable other instances that go unreported.

People whose mindsets are attuned to accepting irrational ideas unquestioningly are the ones who are at risk of being manipulated by clever minds. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, 40 villages of Betul district celebrated Diwali in August this year driven by rumours that if anyone failed to celebrate Diwali during the rains, the family would lose its eldest son or face calamity. The rumours were fuelled by clever businessmen who simply saw a great business opportunity in times of recession. In Uttar Pradesh, some time back, women were mislead into dumping wheat and rice into a river if they wished to have a son or wanted success for their sons.

However, the most damage is wrought when shrewd yet intelligent people with criminal tendencies are able to easily draw the gullible into their fold preying on their false beliefs and illiteracy. Apart from pandering to established traditional notions, such fake babas, tantriks and charlatans further firm up their place in the minds of the gullible by demonstrating simple scientific phenomena and passing them off as miracles. They ply their trade secure in the knowledge that the people they target will never question their deeds. Exploiting the poor and the uninformed, such thugs build up empires and hobnob with people in power giving them more sanctity. But for those who get sucked into this cesspool, loss of wealth, loss of dignity and even loss of life are just waiting to happen.

One person who subjected such godmen to intense scrutiny – Narendra Dabholkar – was recently silenced forever. Crusading against obscurantism for the past many years, Dabholkar was an active member of the Maharashtra Andhshraddha Nirmulan Samiti. It is indeed ironical that while godmen and tantriks are lionised, rationalists like Dabholkar who work towards extricating innocent people from the clutches of such criminals are killed.

We are all duty-bound by the Constitution of India to promote scientific temper among the citizens of the country. We need to empower people in the grip of unfounded beliefs with knowledge to prevent them from being exploited by unscrupulous people and also so they may contribute to the progress of the country more effectively.
Hasan Jawaid Khan

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Health Information on the Net – Tread with Caution!

Surf through websites displaying information on health and diseases and you would wonder why at all people of the world should continue to be afflicted with such dreaded diseases like AIDS and cancer when miraculous cures are on offer everywhere. There are hundreds of websites awash with scientifically sounding medical advice. They offer quick and easy remedies for chronic medical conditions.

Dig a little deeper and you find many such websites have been floated by people who have no medical qualifications. The information they display is inaccurate, false and misleading. They are just out to cash in on the frustrations and insecurities of people afflicted with diseases. Some even claim medical industries and conventional doctors are out to silence them and hence their treatments are not offered publicly.

But this is not to say that all of the health information on the Internet is not to be believed. There is a lot of information on websites that is reliable. But while there are many websites that are peddling incorrect information, in some cases, the information being displayed is not current. While medical research moves ahead at a fast pace some even authentic websites do not update their information giving outdated information to surfers who happen to land on their site.

In a study on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) published in August 2012 in the online Journal of Pediatrics, Dr. Rachel Moon and colleagues found that almost 55% websites contained inaccurate information or information that was not medically relevant. The study found that almost 20% were retail product websites, which had the lowest level of medical accuracy. On the other hand, government websites and websites of national organizations had the highest level of accuracy (80.9% and 72.5%, respectively).

Even educational websites (universities or other websites with URL’s ending in .edu, ebooks, peer-reviewed articles) only had 50.2% accurate or updated medical information. Blogs and websites of individuals also had very low rates of medical accuracy (25.7% and 30.3%).
According to another study by researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, using the Internet to look up health information may be fast and easy, but it may also lead you to inaccurate, misleading or unproven advice.

Searching for information on the Internet on a single type of cancer the researchers found that nearly half the pages had information that had not been scientifically validated, about 6% had wrong information, and others were misleading. The search also turned up hundreds of dead ends, bad links and pages that had no medical information even though they were found in a search.

But all health information on the Internet cannot be condemned. Rather, we need to exercise great caution while travelling on the information superhighway. Ask questions like: Who runs the website? What is the purpose of the website – to sell a product? Beware of websites that offer dramatic, miraculous results and beware of claims that one remedy will cure a variety of illnesses.
Better still, look for the source of the information. Generally, government-sponsored websites (that end in “.gov”), “.edu” sites, which are run by universities or medical schools, “.org” sites maintained by not-for-profit groups whose focus is research and disseminating information about specific diseases or conditions to the public, and sites of medical and scientific journals offer reliable health information.

However, government institutions, organizations and educational websites also need to realize the importance of maintaining up-to-date and accessible medical information on their websites. After all, websites offer the convenience of instant and constant updation.
Hasan Jawaid Khan

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Nature’s Warning!

The recent widespread devastation unleashed by cloudbursts and sudden torrential rains in the hills of Uttarakhand was tragic. Thousands lost their lives, villages were washed away, buildings crashed into rivers, those who survived lost their livelihoods. Many are still missing and the state of Uttarakhand is busy counting its losses.

Well, natural phenomena unleash disasters all the time. But natural disasters transform into national calamities only because of human action and inaction. Gross commercialisation, burgeoning buildings and structures, and uncontrolled tourism have robbed the hills of their beauty and tranquil calm. Mindless and unplanned development, rampant mining, blasting of hills to make way for roads, uprooting of trees, change in the soil structure, unabated expansion of hydro-power projects, and an overall insensitive attitude towards the highly ecologically sensitive region has led to widespread ecological degradation of the hills. This, in turn, has severely compromised the carrying capacity of the hills, robbing them of their natural strength and resilience.

With thousands of trees uprooted to make way for buildings and structures on hill slopes, the soil structure on the slopes has undergone a change and is unable to hold water. The fragile Himalayas are home to more than 200 glacial lakes formed by glacial melt that can turn dangerous when they breach their walls leading to what is known as a glacial lake outburst flood. When rampaging flood waters come rushing down, there is nothing to hold them back, and the mushrooming building structures merely become weapons in the hands of the racing flood waters to unleash more damage. Rivers in the hills are also under tremendous pressure because they have had their beds filled up with silt and construction material and sewage. When they change course, destruction is bound to happen, especially in places where human intervention has exceeded beyond a point.

This is what happened in the third week of June 2013, and will again happen if those who matter in managing the affairs of the hills continue to look the other way while the hills of the young Himalayas are crushed under the weight of human greed. There is definitely need for early warning systems to warn of impending disasters. There is also need for emergency plans to evacuate people under such circumstances. But why not a stitch in time?

There is a dire need for some sense and sensitivity to prevail when it comes to drawing development plans for hilly regions with fragile ecologies. There is a need for sensitizing the political and the bureaucratic class that development at any cost will one day extract a huge cost, and that phenomena like global warming and extreme weather are no more in the realm of fiction. The recent devastation should serve as a good case study to communicate to policy makers and people at large the dangers of exploiting the hills’ meager resources beyond a point.

Nature gives its own warnings. Heed them and only then will the drama of death and misery not play out every time there is a natural disaster.
Hasan Jawaid Khan

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DG-CSIR inaugurates Data Centre and Video Recording Studio at CSIR-NISCAIR

Prof. Samir Kumar Brahmachari, Director-General, CSIR inaugurated a Data Information Resource Facility and a Video Recording Studio at the CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR) on 26 June 2013. He was accompanied by Dr. Gangan Prathap, Director, CSIR-NISCAIR and other personnel from the Institute.

The ultra-modern and well-equipped Data Information Resource Facility or DIRF has been created to host, manage and secure digital resources and services of CSIR-NISCAIR as well as other laboratories of CSIR. The DIRF is envisaged to provide uninterrupted, authorized and secure access (remote & local) of its digital resources, assets and services to the scientific community. It may be used for co-location of other CSIR laboratories’ Servers and Services and also as disaster recovery site for the laboratories.

The usage of DIRF can be extended to other government departments and universities as well in the future. In the First Phase, other CSIR laboratories that do not have redundant and secured IT infrastructure would be asked to co-host their prime services from DIRF. In the Second Phase, other government R&D Institutes will be contacted for co-location of the Servers, depending upon the availability of space in the Data Centre. A revenue model for non-CSIR organizations would be evolved in due course to meet the DIRF expenditure.

The DIRF also houses a well-equipped classroom facility for training and a Software Development Laboratory for the development, testing and implementation of software and applications. Prof. Brahmachari went round the facility and appreciated the work done.

Subsequently, Prof. Brahmachari visited the Science Communication through Multimedia (SCM) Division of CSIR-NISCAIR to inaugurate the Recording Studio. In a country where the impact of a medium like television is very high, CSIR-NISCAIR has taken up the challenge of creating multimedia content on scientific and technological subjects. It was to give a thrust to the Institute’s foray into multimedia content generation that the SCM Division was created.

Ever since then, the Division has been equipped with the latest HD technology, a shooting floor with HD recording facility and editing bays for film quality HD editing. The Division has already completed documentary films on the CSIR-National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL) and the CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT). In fact, the film on CSIR-IHBT was screened before the DG-CSIR.

Inaugurating the newly constructed Video Recording Studio, Prof. Brahmachari illustrated the powerful combination of science communication and social media by giving the example of the recent landslides. He suggested that by providing a server where people could upload photographs and videos of landslides, a wealth of information about landslides including geospatial data could be generated.

Prof. Brahmachari also called for seamless integration of the print communication and multimedia communication activities of CSIR-NISCAIR with the newly created Data Information Resource Facility to cater to places in the country that lacked resources. He said that while many villages lacked classrooms, they were covered by 4G mobile infrastructure capabilities. CSIR-NISCAIR could provide science education to these villages through mobile phones.

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CSIR-NISCAIR Celebrates National Science Day 2013

The National Science Day is celebrated in India on 28 February every year to honour the anniversary of the discovery of the Raman Effect. This day is used to commemorate the notions of Scientific Literacy and Scientific Temper.

CSIR-National Institute of Science Communication And Information Resources (NISCAIR) celebrated this occasion on 28 February 2013 at the AP Shinde Auditorium, National Agricultural Science Complex, by releasing two publications pertinent to these themes: the book Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar: The Man and his Mission and a new quarterly journal the Journal of Scientific Temper (JST). The occasion had three Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar Award winners – Dr. Gangan Prathap, Dr. Seyed Hasnain and Dr. N. Mukunda – as the dignitaries.

The Guest of Honour on this occasion was Dr. Seyed E. Hasnain, Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi and former Vice Chancellor of University of Hyderabad. Prof. N. Mukunda, former Vice President of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore presided over the function.

Director, CSIR-NISCAIR Dr. Gangan Prathap addressed the gathering and narrated a personal experience relevant to the occasion. He told the audience that his wife, a sociologist, had told him that social evolution theory had no place for “God” as a hypothesis. This fact made them decide that the only religion in their household would be the religion of reason. He stressed that there were many dangers inherent if a country like India chose the path of faith.

Mr. Gauhar Raza, Editor of JST, emphasized an important distinction between Scientific Literacy and Scientific Temper. He expressed pride in the fact that India was the only country in the region that had consistently engaged with the concept of Scientific Temper, even though its achievement was still a far-fetched dream. Mr. Raza emphasized the need to provide a platform to nurture this debate, and expressed pride at being the editor of a journal that proposed to do so. Dr. Seyed Hasnain released the journal, along with two posters on Scientific Temper.

Dr. Sukanya Datta, author of Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar: The Man and his Mission, conveyed how impressed she had been with the leadership caliber of Dr. S.S. Bhatnagar, the scientist who had laid the foundations of CSIR. Dr. S.S. Bhatnagar was a visionary, but along with that he was a motivator who put his own shoulder to the yoke when required. Dr. Datta thanked DG-CSIR, Dr. Sameer K. Brahmachari, for giving her this assignment.

Prof. N. Mukunda released the book. Dr. Gangan Prathap gifted the first copy of the book to Mr. D.S. Bhatnagar, the son of Dr S.S. Bhatnagar, who had been specially invited for the occasion.

In his address, Dr. Hasnain explored, in depth, the parallels between the life of two institution builders who contributed greatly to the building of India’s scientific infrastructure: Dr. S.S. Bhatnagar and Dr. Homi Bhabha. Dr. Hasnain mulled on the state of science policy in India today, and said that we needed more Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagars. He extrapolated lessons from Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar’s life to science policy, including evaluation programmes for scientific grants, delinking bureaucracy from science, different rules for appointment and promotion of scientists, nurturing university-industry links, close fertilization of teaching and research and making the research career more lucrative. Dr. Hasnain said that India should not focus on the quantity of research publications, and rather focus on quality of scientific research. He lamented the lack of scientific role models in our society.

Prof. Mukunda stressed the importance of inspiring bright young people to take up scientific careers and for Indian science to compete meaningfully at the global level. He lauded the efforts of Dr. Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar and Dr. Homi Bhabha for encouraging science at the highest level. Dr. Mukunda said that the inculcation of Scientific Temper was important, but it was not a task that could be successfully carried out without the cooperation of multiple institutions. He congratulated CSIR-NISCAIR on reviving the notion of Scientific Temper with its efforts.

Vrishali Subramanian

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Zoo – Important Educational Resource

Why should zoos exist at all? From time to time, several emotional arguments against keeping wild animals in captivity have been made to call for closing down of all zoos around the world. But, over the years, zoos have justified their existence by moving away from simply displaying animals for entertainment to becoming repositories of critically endangered animals. Zoos also have active captive breeding programmes that seek to give a new lease of life to species on the brink of extinction. They also fulfil an important research purpose.

Today, however, zoos around the world are increasingly being looked upon as centres for imparting education and spreading awareness about wild animals and their concerns, environmental conservation and sustainable development.

With urban concrete jungles fast stretching out in all corners, denizens of these concrete jungles rarely get a chance to visit the real jungles and look at its wild inhabitants up close. So, the zoos provide the only opportunity for a large number of people to encounter animals found in the wild. In India alone, as many as 50 million people visit the more than 150 zoos annually. There is, therefore, immense scope and potential for engaging this large captive audience and changing their focus from an animal-specific experience to creating a human-animal relationship.

The best books, the best videos and the best photos can only give cut-and-dried information about animals. They cannot impart the same kind of love and respect for the wild animals as when actually seeing them alive and moving around. A visit to a zoo is a hands-on learning experience.

With environmental conservation and wildlife depredation becoming worldwide concerns, it is increasingly becoming necessary that rather than touting zoos as mere tourist traps the focus be shifted to bringing people closer to environmental issues and imparting to them a realisation and appreciation for wider conservation efforts. Citizen support is essential if conservation efforts have to make any headway and for achieving the desired outcome.

There is scope for a lot of information and message to be transmitted to the thousands of visitors to Indian zoos through creative and lucid signages, informative and hands-on workshops and celebrations, guided tours and wildlife trails, low-cost publications and so on. Of course, to bring about such a change would also require induction of highly trained, motivated and friendly zoo staff and loads of commitment.

Zoos are a very important educational resource and should increasingly strive not be known only for the exotic animals they display but for the creative and friendly manner they are able to impart knowledge about conservation and sustainable development to their visitors – young and old alike.
Hasan Jawaid Khan

(Editorial in Science Reporter, January 2013 issue)

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Failure of Communication?

Perhaps for the first time a community dragged its scientists to court for having caused deaths due to negligence, and has recently even got them convicted in court. The incident relates to the 2009 earthquake in l’Aquila in Italy that killed 309 people and caused widespread damage to property. A local court in Italy has convicted six scientists and one civil defense official of manslaughter and slapped a six-year jail term and a fine of 7.8 million Euros.

Members of the community who lost their near and dear ones in the tragic 6.3 richter earthquake on 5 April 2009 accused the scientists and the official of manslaughter on the charge that they failed to communicate the magnitude of risk to their life. The entire story unfolded after a series of small tremors had rocked l’Aquila for four months. A local scientist further created sensation by predicting that a surge in the release of radon from the ground implied a major earthquake was sure to strike.

But Italy’s Civil Protecton Agency consisting of the country’s leading earthquake experts, after a hurriedly put together meeting, ruled out any such possibility saying the small tremors were releasing the earth’s pent up energy and the situation was “favourable”. Five days later 309 people had lost their lives, 1600 were injured and many of l’Aquila’s buildings had crashed to the ground reduced to rubble. Angry relatives rushed to the court and three years later on 23 October 2012 extracted their revenge when the court held the six scientists and the civil defense official guilty of manslaughter.

Understandably, the scientific community worldwide is up in arms against the conviction. Several Italian scientists have resigned from important committees calling the trial and conviction naïve and even dangerous. The citizens, however, aver that the trial was never about science and the ability of scientists to predict earthquakes – it was only about the responsibility of scientists to share their expertise and communicate relevant information to help people make informed choices.

Perhaps this is where the Italian scientists and officials erred. Rather than admit that seismic predictions are uncertain, they claimed there was no danger at all. Their fault lay in the casual manner they communicated with the public that had been traumatized by the recurring tremors. The issue here perhaps is more about effective and sensitive risk communication than anything else. In fact, risk communication is a critically important part of overall risk management. It shapes public perception and defines people’s responses when a disaster strikes.

There is a lesson in this entire story for scientific experts in India too who while advising governments on critical issues also need to more constructively engage with the public and communicate with them and be sensitive to their concerns. Apart from natural disasters there are several other issues such as GM foods and crops, big dams, nuclear plants and so on that require engagement of all stakeholders and communication of possible advantages and disadvantages and the risks therein to the public. There is a need to strike a balance between alarmist pronouncements and casual apathetic communication.

Hasan Jawaid Khan

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CSIR-NISCAIR Celebrates its 60th Anniversary

COMMUNICATION is the key to human progress and communication of science is essential for the fruits of progress to reach the masses. The country’s scientific leadership and the nation builders realized this sixty years back when the Publications & Information Directorate was set up in 1951 – it was renamed the National Institute of Science Communication (NISCOM) in 1996. NISCOM merged with the Indian National Scientific Documentation Centre (INSDOC) in 2002 and emerged as an entity called the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR). NISCAIR has not only been communicating science to the masses but has also been disseminating information to the scientific community for the past six decades.

CSIR-NISCAIR has carved out a niche for itself in the arena of science communication, disseminating scientific information to the scientific community through its 17 peer-reviewed research journals, inventorying the country’s raw material resources through the monumental encyclopaedic series The Wealth of India, and popularizing science in the country through its three well circulated popular science magazines – Science Reporter (English), Vigyan Pragati (Hindi) and Science ki Duniya (Urdu).

The largest institute in the country engaged in science communication, CSIR-NISCAIR, a constituent establishment of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), celebrated its Diamond Jubilee Year during 2011-2012. The concluding function of the yearlong celebrations was held on 17 October 2012 at the DRDO Bhawan, New Delhi.

While former President of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was the Chief Guest, also gracing the occasion were Shri Vayalar Ravi, Hon’ble Minister of Science & Technology, Earth Sciences, Overseas Indian Affairs and Small & Medium Enterprises; Dr. Ashwani Kumar, Hon’ble Minister of State for Science & Technology, Earth Sciences and Planning, and Prof. Samir K. Brahmachari, Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and Secretary, DSIR.

Greatly appreciating the contents of Science Reporter, former President of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam congratulated CSIR-NISCAIR for its high-quality research journals that had managed to garner landmark Impact Factor and The Wealth of India for capturing the wealth of India’s biodiversity. Dr Kalam hoped CSIR-NISCAIR would spread its wings to reach the unreached in local languages. He also advised CSIR-NISCAIR to start a science channel for television and create interesting and enlightening scientific content for the channel. Further, he also wanted the Institute to start a daily science newspaper, initially as an e-paper. Dr Kalam also called upon CSIR to launch a Mobile Science Laboratory that could go around the rural areas of the country demonstrating CSIR’s rural technologies.

Earlier, appreciating the three popular science magazines brought out by CSIR-NISCAIR, Science and Technology Minister Shri Vayalar Ravi congratulated CSIR-NISCAIR for having constantly reinvented and repositioned itself to remain relevant for the nation for sixty long years. He made a strong pitch for popular science magazines to be brought out in regional languages also and hoped the Institute would work towards this end.

Shri Vayalar Ravi also appreciated the Institute’s encyclopedic publication The Wealth of India, which even in the 21st century was an authentic source to establish India’s biodiversity and traditional knowledge. It played a major role in backing up India’s claim for priority in the US patent case on turmeric. He also lauded NISCAIR journals that had notched up an increase of >41% in Impact Factor over that from the previous year. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology and Indian Journal of Biochemistry & Biophysics had even crossed an Impact Factor of 1.0 – a rarity for Indian journals.

In his address, Dr. Ashwani Kumar, Hon’ble Minister of State for Science & Technology, Earth Sciences and Planning said that the need for communicating science, not only to the research community but also to the public, is the foundation for building an educated and informed citizenry. And it is in this respect that CSIR-NISCAIR has been rendering yeoman service to the nation. He said generations of Indians have grown up reading Science Reporter and referring to The Wealth of India. He was also happy to note that CSIR-NISCAIR had the distinction of being the National Centre of the ISSN International Centre for assigning ISSN numbers for serials published in India. However, he cautioned against being content with these achievements and wanted the Institute to expand its reach to different languages. Dr Ashwani Kumar also said that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s foremost concern was rekindling scientific temper among the citizens of the country and this is where CSIR-NISCAIR could play a big role.

In fact, CSIR-NISCAIR has already made a beginning in this regard. During the Diamond Jubilee year (2011-2012), the Institute took up the cause of retrieving and reviving the concept of scientific temper. Realising that during the past few years there has been a marked increase in public display of religious identities, and privatisation of the electronic media has also led to unabashed promotion of superstitions and non-scientific dogmas and notions through TV serials and the highly competitive news channels, CSIR-NISCAIR sought to give a second push, so to say, to the concept of scientific temper in the country by organizing three conferences. The common thread that ran through the deliberations in all these conferences was the need to spread the concept of scientific temper at all levels of the society.

Taking this a step further, the Institute also brought out two books – one in English and the other in Hindi – focused on the concept of scientific temper based on the deliberations at these conferences. The books titled Quest for Scientific Temper and Vaigyanik Drishtikon – Ek Nayee Pahal were released by Dr Ashwani Kumar at the function.

Prof. Samir K. Brahmachari, Director-General, CSIR appreciated the Institute’s efforts in bringing out exceptional and contemporary issues of Science Reporter month after month. He was happy to note that when the Prime Minister’s Office needs support in Japanese translation it finds the expertise in CSIR-NISCAIR, and when the Jharkhand Chief Minister wants to know abut the biodiversity in his state he is handed a copy of The Wealth of India, which is again published by CSIR-NISCAIR. He also appreciated the fact that while analyzing the highly cited research papers, the most cited paper with 956 citations was published in a journal brought out by CSIR-NISCAIR.

Earlier, in his Welcome Address, Dr Gangan Prathap, Director-NISCAIR pointed to the high place accorded to knowledge by quoting Solomon (900 BC) who said, “It is better to have knowledge and wisdom than to have gold and silver.” Dr Prathap said that Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has quoted in his website: “Creativity leads to thinking and thinking to knowledge.” To this he added that knowledge locked up in the minds of men is of no use to humanity. It has to be disseminated and communicated, and that is the role CSIR-NISCAIR is mandated to do.

As part of its Diamond Jubilee celebrations, apart from several activities the Institute also organized science quiz, debate and painting competitions for school students. While the topic for the debate was “Social media like Facebook and Twitter are a bane rather than a boon”, those taking part in the painting competition put on canvas their thoughts on conserving the environment for the future. The Science and Technology Minister Shri Vayalar Ravi and DG-CSIR Prof. Samir K. Brahmachari gave away prizes to the winners of these competitions at the function. For the prizewinners, the prizes were indeed motivating, but listening to eminent scientists and the former President Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was an immensely enlightening experience.

CSIR-NISCAIR embraces a wide spectrum of society in the country ranging from students and teachers to scientists and professionals, from industries and research institutions to even farmers and the common masses. It is committed to enhancing its reach even further through innovative and technological interventions in the coming years.
Hasan Jawaid Khan

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